Sunday, 27 September 2015

Banky's Dismaland Masked Ball

During my three years at university in Bristol, I grew accustomed to spotting pieces of street art by Banksy. In 2009, I eagerly queued with the masses to view his pop up exibition "Banksy versus Bristol Museum" where attractions included a taxidermy bunny applying make up and a burnt out ice cream van. So when news of Dismaland spread, I was keen to see what the fuss was about. Initially I was put off by the stories of websites crashing and one account of the park being evacuated due to bad weather but friends' photos from the events started appearing on social media and finally when the announcement that Pussy Riot would be playing at one of the late night events, I was sold. I was ridiculously lucky and had my tickets by 10:01 on the Saturday they went on sale.

I can't lie, the journey to Weston-Super-Mare can only be described as dismal and a 'mare with the two hour car journey taking a whopping four hours - curse you Friday evening traffic! We finally arrived, parked with ease and were in just before 8. You may have heard that this event required participants to wear masks so Banksy could attend incognito which made going in even more exciting. Juan pushed the boat out with a scarf round his face, whilst I cut an old beanie to make a Pussy Riot-styled balaclava but ended up looking more like Catwoman (never a bad thing).
Once we'd been let through artist Bill Barminski's cardboard cut-out-style security gate by the silent disinterested staff and had a map thrust at us, I was pretty overwhelmed by how big the site was and just how much there was going on. We had a wander round admiring the fair attractions to the left of the entrance. These included a not-so-merry-go-round reminding us of the horse meat scandal via the display of a carousel horse hung up behind a butcher sat on boxes labelled "Lasagne", remote control boats overflowing with refugees, a hook the duck out the muck stand where game players can win a "fish finger" in a bag.
On walking round the back of the derelict copy-cat of Cinderella's castle we noted a small stage and assumed that was where Pussy Riot would appear in the next few minutes so meandered round the nearby art: the whale jumping out of a toilet, through a hoop and into paddling pool - a stark nod to Blackfish and the horror of Seaworld as well as heartfelt and relatable slogans by Wasted Rita.
Suddenly moody, bass-heavy music dropped and shouting was coming from in front of the castle, we made our way round to see 3 balaclava-clad members of Pussy Riot performing from a cage to one side of the castle. Meanwhile, in the centre, there were acting protestors trying to fight their way through a barrier of riot police armed with shields and truncheons. Four never before heard songs were performed covering political topics of migration and police/government corruption. The majority of the performance was in Russian with English subtitles being projected onto the side of the castle.

Over the duration of Pussy Riot's set, the violence between police and activists heightened and eventually the entire group of protestors break through, get hold of the truncheons and chase the police officers into the castle. It was an entertaining, hardhitting and considering the pressure was on, as PR were the main reason I was there, it didn't disappoint.
The note summing up the castle on the park map reads "See how it feels to be a real princess". Inside the gloomy disshelvelled, walls is a room bearing one of the most controversial pieces in Dismaland - a post-collision carriage, overturned, with the deceased princess splayed out the window and a hoard of paparazzi relentlessly snapping the scene. Sound familiar?

Back at the stage, Kate Tempest was spitting her intense spoken word, the topics of performance was consumerism, materialism and happiness. It was a raw performance and she really left an impression on me - I've since listened to all her work on Spotify. At this point we stopped for food. Though it was fantastic that Dismaland is vegetarian, there was only 2 eateries and we waited over 20 minutes for a falafel wrap.
Time was flying, we quickly worked our way round the side shows duped "Guerilla Island". The Cruelty Bus is a museum about CCTV, "Big Brother" Britain and the meat industry. It also displayed photos of contemporary public benches, showing how they are designed so that homeless people cannot lie on them or kids use them when skateboarding. This part particularly resonated with me because I'd often wondered why public seating areas were made so uncomfortable and it's so obvious that it's design and intention is to prevent loitering. Another part of the Island was a tent emblazoned with protest signs and banners on subject matters from rape culture to migration and austerity.
De La Soul were the main act of the evening and they pulled together an insane crowd. Damion Albarn was a surprise guest and performed "Feel Good Inc" live. We took to the ferris wheel to get a birds-eye view and this was where I had my second taste of Dismal employees - it was £2 per person and the staff member wouldn't accept me giving her payment for two people so we had to take our money back and give her £2 each before we were allowed on.
Unfortunately, due to getting there late, teamed with long waiting times for food and toilet stops, we ran out of time so didn't get to view the Circus tent, home of Damien Hirst's taxidermy "unicorn". We also missed out on the gallery with the macabre grim reaper bumper car and the miniature village which I'm SO gutted about. Before heading home, we went back to the Ariel/castle scene to get some last photos when fireworks started and made for some pretty cool photos.

I had an amazing evening and am incredibly happy I got to see this fantastic collection of political art. When we were on our way in at the beginning of the evening, I heard a girl say this was her third time to Dismaland and thought she was greedy as so many people struggled to get tickets. On my way out I couldn't help but think about how I can see why someone would need to go this many times to see everything properly. Whilst visiting at night didn't always make for blog-post friendly photography, I definitely think seeing Dismaland lit up made the experience even better. Whilst on the subject of photos, Juan took a lot of these, so thank you for letting me use them!

Make sure you head over to The Bell Jar Blog Facebook page to see enlarged versions of these pictures and more photos from my Dismaland visit.

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